Meet Samo Shalaby (Instagram), a talented creative working in fine art who lives between London, Dubai, and Cairo. Shalaby’s work explores various styles, including those of antiquity, surrealism, and grotesque, through his unique, personal, modern perspective. Shalaby is fond of using painting and photography to express his vision, and he enjoys mixing aesthetics and motifs from different decades to create new worlds that are both familiar and enigmatic. Shalaby’s art is complex and multifaceted, often presenting dichotomous narratives that challenge conventional thinking. He is constantly in a dreamlike state during the creative process, and he values symbolism and storytelling as essential elements of his work. With a background that exposed him to diverse art forms, Shalaby continues to evolve and expand his craft in various fields, including stage design, costumes, jewellery, and more.
How did it all start for you?
As early as I can remember. My mother is a bespoke artist specialising in many styles and mediums. I spent the better half of my childhood in her studio learning various styles and techniques as I shadowed her every move. She ambitiously experimented in many ways in terms of mediums, styles, and scale. From murals and ceilings to candles and leather goods, and even furniture. Guiding me through the classics, the modern, and through to the contemporary. She opened up many doors for my curious mind. Eventually, that developed into me exploring my imagination through the techniques I’ve adopted.
What inspires you to create your pieces?
Inspiration can strike in many forms, which is why I always keep a sketchbook within reach. The change of notes in a song, a new word being used in a sentence, a passing whiff or scent, a fever dream, or a nightmare. Everyday signs and symbols all play into the bigger picture. Aimlessly sketching is where the most direct form of inspiration dwells. Even writing.
What’s your favourite piece of art that you’ve created, and why?
“Figurative Theatre” was a turning point for me. After the initial panic of Covid, I spent two months alone where I reflected inward, the chaos of isolation bloomed into a productive flow one night when a vision came to me as I started to vigorously sketch. The next morning I got up, started painting again, and didn’t stop for six months. Everything that drove me to create started to fall into place. Stage, costume, jewellery, characters, storytelling, and overall amplified theatricality. It solidified in me that this is my path.
How do your culture and background inspire your art?
Growing up between Egypt and Dubai has shaped my knowledge of different crafts and historical techniques. Fusing antiquity with modern motifs came from my exposure to kitsch and camp meeting classical and traditional design, but within the same context. Merging these worlds together has fueled my maximalist approach to creating.
How would you describe your artistic style?
From future and past, otherworldly and vast.
What is your creative process like, from conceptualization to execution?
Sketch, sketch, sketch. I usually doodle until I feel I’ve finally hit a vein. A place where ideas bleed onto a page or canvas. Then comes a process of dissection and curation where I compose a narrative guided by characters acting as puzzle pieces.
What are some recurring themes or motifs in your work, and why are they important to you?
I believe that dreams can act as gateways to portals and other realms, where the truth lies in fiction. Through that, I like to embed dichotomous elements that contradict and reflect each other. I tend to mix different motifs from various decades to create new worlds, shrines, or temples, that are familiar, yet so far away.
Who are some of your biggest artistic influences and how have they impacted your work?
From Thierry Mugler to Hieronymus Bosch, a lot of my influences range from costume to jewellery, and from painters to musicians. My mother and my aunt initiated my creative journey through both of their influences. From painters such as Lawrence Alma Tadema and Maxfield Parrish to musicians like David Bowie and Siouxsie Sioux. Directors such as Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger, to jewellery by Rene Lalique or Alphonse Mucha. Overall, a range of those influences expanded my sense of drama and atmospheric details in my paintings.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
إتصـَ ّر َف
It loosely translates to “Figure it out” or “Deal with it”. Music to my ears.
What are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to face as an artist?
Censorship, especially in the Arab world. There are a lot of topics that are unfortunately still taboo, or too sensitive to explore. So sometimes I find it difficult to navigate these discussions in a non-provocative way. However, I hope through my work I get to push those boundaries and start new conversations. I chose to believe in magic.
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